Matsuo Bashô: Frog Haiku #FridayFeeling #poem

Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

Old pond — frog jumped in — sound of water.

The quiet we wait for at the end of today. Where a packed lunch and a bottle of tea makes a prairie… Where can we find quiet, serenity, frogs when you live in the city? What does this poem do for city dwellers? Has it become only a dream, a vision of a trip to other countries? How many of us have seen frogs, walked around ponds?

Public gardens, inside conservatories, walking through a ravine, Saturday and Sunday early morning, inside near empty shuls, churches, mosques. Maybe in coffee shops before the neighbourhood wakes up, libraries in the study sections where tiny birds wait under the table or on top of stacks, near the water… But the fear of quiet and of boredom and of having nothing else to do…almost stops us from wanting to be where a frog jumps into an old pond. A lot of us have stopped doing nothing or have stopped hiking, gardening, walking to places.

It must have meant something different for Basho. A large part of his day must have been silent, quiet, long. Frogs are cute little animals for him… what would be bring out similar feelings in us, when everything is fast, loud, devoid of animals except on videos we share?

Matsuo Bashô: Frog Haiku

The original Japanese:

Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

Old pond — frog jumped in — sound of water.

Translated by Lafcadio Hearn

A lonely pond in age-old stillness sleeps . . .
Apart, unstirred by sound or motion . . . till
Suddenly into it a lithe frog leaps.

Translated by Curtis Hidden Page

The old pond;
A frog jumps in —
The sound of the water.

Translated by R.H. Blyth

old pond
frog leaping
splash

Translated by Cid Corman

Old dark sleepy pool
quick unexpected frog
goes plop! Watersplash.

Translated by Peter Beilenson

Listen! a frog
Jumping into the stillness
Of an ancient pond!

Translated by Dorothy Britton

At the ancient pond
a frog plunges into
the sound of water

Translated by Sam Hamill

dark old pond
:
a frog plunks in

Translated by Dick Bakken

pond
frog
plop!

Translated by James Kirkup

Commentary by Robert Aitken

The old pond;
a frog jumps in —
the sound of the water.

Furu ike ya Old pond!
kawazu tobikomu frog jumps in
mizu no oto water’s sound

The commentary is from Robert Aitken’s A Zen Wave: Bashô’s Haiku and Zen (revised ed., Shoemaker & Hoard, 2003). The book includes essays on 26 of Bashô’s haikus, of which this is the first.

THE FORM

Ya is a cutting word that separates and yet joins the expressions before and after. It is punctuation that marks a transition — a particle of anticipation.

Though there is a pause in meaning at the end of the first segment, the next two segments have no pause between them. In the original, the words of the second and third parts build steadily to the final word oto. This has penetrating impact — “the frog jumps in water’s sound.” Haiku poets commonly play with their base of three parts, running the meaning past the end of one segment into the next, playing with their form, as all artists do variations on the form they are working with. Actually, the name “haiku” means “play verse.”

COMMENT

This is probably the most famous poem in Japan, and after three hundred and more years of repetition, it has, understandably, become a little stale for Japanese people. Thus as English readers, we have something of an edge in any effort to see it freshly. The first line is simply “The old pond.” This sets the scene — a large, perhaps overgrown lily pond in a public garden somewhere. We may imagine that the edges are mossy, and probably a little broken down. With the frog as our clue, we guess that it is twilight in late spring.

This setting of time and place needs to be established, but there is more. “Old” is a cue word of another sort. For a poet such as Bashô, an evening beside a mossy pond evoked the ancient. Bashô presents his own mind as this timeless, endless pond, serene and potent — a condition familiar to mature Zen students.

In one of his first talks in Hawai’i, Yamada Kôun Rôshi said: “When your consciousness has become ripe in true zazen — pure like clear water, like a serene mountain lake, not moved by any wind — then anything may serve as a medium for realization.”

D.T. Suzuki used to say that the condition of the Buddha’s mind while he was sitting under the Bodhi tree was that of sagara mudra samadhi (ocean-seal absorption). In this instance, mudra is translated as “seal” as in “notary seal.” We seal our zazen with our zazen mudra, left hand over the right, thumbs touching. Our minds are sealed with the serenity and depth of the great ocean in true zazen.

There is more, I think. Persistent inquiry casts that profound serenity. Tradition tells us that the Buddha was preoccupied with questions about suffering. The story of Zen is the story of men and women who were open to agonizing doubts about ultimate purpose and meaning. The entire teaching of Zen is framed by questions.

Profound inquiry placed the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, and his exacting focus brought him to the serene inner setting where the simple incident of noticing the morning star could suddenly disclose the ultimate Way. As Yamada Rôshi has said, any stimulus would do — a sudden breeze with the dawn, the first twittering of birds, the appearance of the sun itself. It just happened to be a star in the Buddha’s case.

In Bashô’s haiku, a frog appears. To Japanese of sensitivity, frogs are dear little creatures, and Westerners may at least appreciate this animal’s energy and immediacy. Plop!

“Plop” is onomatopoeic, as is oto in this instance. Onomatopoeia is the presentation of an action by its sound, or at least that is its definition in literary criticism. The poet may prefer to say that he became intimate with that sound. Thus the parody by Gibon Sengai is very instructive:

The old pond!
Bashô jumps in,
The sound of the water!

Hsiang-yen Chih-hsien became profoundly attuned to a sound while cleaning the grave of the Imperial Tutor, Nan-yang Hui-chung. His broom caught a little stone that sailed through the air and hit a stalk of bamboo. Tock! He had been working on the kôan “My original face before my parents were born,” and with that sound his body and mind fell away completely. There was only that tock. Of course, Hsiang-yen was ready for this experience. He was deep in the samadhi of sweeping leaves and twigs from the grave of an old master, just as Bashô is lost in the samadhi of an old pond, and just as the Buddha was deep in the samadhi of the great ocean.

Samadhi means “absorption,” but fundamentally it is unity with the whole universe. When you devote yourself to what you are doing, moment by moment — to your kôan when on your cushion in zazen, to your work, study, conversation, or whatever in daily life — that is samadhi. Do not suppose that samadhi is exclusively Zen Buddhist. Everything and everybody are in samadhi, even bugs, even people in mental hospitals.

Absorption is not the final step in the way of the Buddha. Hsiang-yen changed with that tock. When he heard that tiny sound, he began a new life. He found himself at last, and could then greet his master confidently and lay a career of teaching whose effect is still felt today. After this experience, he wrote:

One stroke has made me forget all my previous knowledge.
No artificial discipline is at all needed;
In every movement I uphold the ancient way
And never fall into the rut of mere quietism;
Wherever I walk no traces are left,
And my senses are not fettered by rules of conduct;
Everywhere those who have attained to the truth
All declare this to be of highest order.

The Buddha changed with noticing the morning star — “Now when I view all beings everywhere,” he said, “I see that each of them possesses the wisdom and virtue of the Buddha . . .” — and after a week or so he rose from beneath the tree and began his lifetime of pilgrimage and teaching. Similarly, Bashô changed with that plop. The some 650 haiku that he wrote during his remaining eight years point precisely within his narrow medium to metaphors of nature and culture as personal experience. A before-and-after comparison may be illustrative of this change. For example, let us examine his much-admired “Crow on a Withered Branch.”

On a withered branch
a crow is perched:
an autumn evening.

Kare eda ni Withered branch on
karasu no tomari keri crow’s perched
aki no kure autumn’s evening

The Japanese language uses postpositions rather than prepositions, so phrases like the first segment of this haiku read literally “Withered branch on” and become “On [a] withered branch.” Unlike English, Japanese allows use of the past participle (or its equivalent) as a kind of noun, so in this haiku we have the “perchedness” of the crow, an effect that is emphasized by the postposition keri, which implies completion.

Bashô wrote this haiku six years before he composed “The Old Pond,” and some scholars assign to it the milestone position that is more commonly given the later poem. I think, however, that on looking into the heart of “Crow on a Withered Branch” we can see a certain immaturity. For one thing, the message that the crow on a withered branch evokes an autumn evening is spelled out discursively, a contrived kind of device that I don’t find in Bashô’s later verse. There is no turn of experience, and the metaphor is flat and uninteresting. More fundamentally, this haiku is a presentation of quietism, the trap Hsiang-yen and all other great teachers of Zen warn us to avoid. Sagara mudra samadhi is not adequate; remaining indefinitely under the Bodhi tree will not do; to muse without emerging is to be unfulfilled.

Ch’ang-sha Ching-ts’en made reference to this incompleteness in his criticism of a brother monk who was lost in a quiet, silent place:

You who sit on the top of a hundred-foot pole,
Although you have entered the Way, it is not yet genuine.
Take a step from the top of the pole
And worlds of the ten directions will be your entire body.
The student of Zen who is stuck in the vast, serene condition of
nondiscrimination must take another step to become mature.

Bashô’s haiku about the crow would be an expression of the “first principle,” emptiness all by itself — separated from the world of sights and sounds, coming and going. This is the ageless pond without the frog. It was another six years before Bashô took that one step from the top of the pole into the dynamic world of reality, where frogs play freely in the pond and thoughts play freely in the mind.

The old pond has no walls;
a frog just jumps in;
do you say there is an echo?

Thirty translations of a haiku by Matsuo Bashô (1686). Many more versions can be found in Hiroaki Sato’s One Hundred Frogs (Weatherhill, 1995), which includes over 100 translations plus a number of adaptations and parodies.

The commentary is from Robert Aitken’s A Zen Wave: Bashô’s Haiku and Zen (revised ed., Shoemaker & Hoard, 2003). The book includes essays on 26 of Bashô’s haikus, of which this is the first.

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Magpies by Judith Wright

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Photos by Patrick Ingremeau and The Wildlife Studio

Along the road the magpies walk

with hands in pockets, left and right.
They tilt their heads, and stroll and talk.
In their well-fitted black and white

they look like certain gentlemen who seem most nonchalant and wise
until their meal is served – and then
what clashing beaks, what greedy eyes!

But not one man that I have heard
throws back his head in such a song
of grace and praise – no man nor bird.
Their greed is brief; their joy is long.
For each is born with such a throat
as thanks his God with every note.

Judith Wright’s poem Magpies

“The trees were attitudes in black” #Snow Advent by Auslander #ChristmasEve #Wintersolstice #WinterWonderland

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Photos by Theresaurus.

Snow advent

The clouds were all brushed up and back
The wrong way by the wind;
The trees were attitudes in black;
The brooks were disciplined.

Then soft as spider on a shelf,
Or satin mouse at birth,
Or as a pigeon lends itself
Reluctantly to earth —

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No louder than a silken sound
Of the web’s silver wheel,
Spraying the darkness all around
With spokes of silken steel —

As soft and softer than all these
Parted the sky at noon;
And the air stood up league-deep in bees,
The white bees of the moon.

 

-Joseph Auslander in All the Silver Pennies

#FifteenDogs Dramatis Canes @GillerPrize

.@GDBooks “Dramatis Canes” reads like a poem! Hilarious and interesting. Andre Alexis says: “place is fundamental in fiction.” 

(but wth is up with the eye on top of every i?! odd and bothersome after one sentence. Where is my white-out?).

AGATHA               an old labradoodle

 

ATHENA               a brown teacup Poodle

 

ATTICUS               an imposing Nepolitan Mastiff,
                                       with cascading jowls

 

BELLA                    a Great Dane, Athena’s closest pack mate

 

BENJY                    a resourceful and conniving Beagle

 

BOBBIE                 an unfortunate Duck Toller

 

DOUGIE                a Schnauzer, friend to Benjy

 

FRICK                    a Labrador Retriever

 

FRACK                  a Labrador Retriever, Frick’s litter mate

 

LYDIA                   a Whippet and Weimaraner cross,
                                 tormented and nervous

 

MAJNOUN           a black Poodle, briefly referred to as
                                 ‘Lord Jim’ or simply ‘Jim’

 

MAX                      a mutt who detests poetry

 

PRINCE                a mutt who composes poetry,
                                 also called Russell or Elvis

 

RONALDINHO   a mutt who deplores the condescension
                                 of humans

 

ROSIE                   a German Shephers bitch, close to Atticus
.
.
.
or from an Indie bookstore here

Walt Whitman- queer white man on Bumble Bees. Can you even imagine swarms of thousands of them bumbles?!

Walt Whitman was against slavery but held “the widespread opinion that even free African-Americans should not vote.” He believed all religions to be equally important. He was a supporter of temperance, the movement to set limits to drinking alcohol. White, lower middle class, I think.

Walt Whitman, diary entry on Bumble-Bees.

MAY-MONTH… I am out just after sunrise, and down towards the creek.

The lights, perfumes, melodies—the blue birds, grass birds and robins, in every direction—
For undertones, a neighboring wood-pecker tapping his tree, and the distant clarion of chanticleer.
Then the fresh earth smells—the colors, the delicate drabs and thin blues of the perspective. The bright green of the grass has receiv’d an added tinge from the last two days’ mildness and moisture.

Later.— But for the last two days it has been the great wild bee, the humble-bee, or “bumble,” as the children call him. As I walk, or hobble, from the farm-house down to the creek, I traverse the before-mention’d lane, fenced by old rails, with many splits, splinters, breaks, holes, &c., … Up and down and by and between these rails, they swarm and dart and fly in countless myriads.

As I wend slowly along, I am often accompanied with a moving cloud of them. They play a leading part in my morning, midday or sunset rambles, and often dominate the landscape in a way I never before thought of—fill the long lane, not by scores or hundreds only, but by thousands.
Large and vivacious and swift, with wonderful momentum and a loud swelling perpetual hum, varied now and then by something almost like a shriek, they dart to and fro, in rapid flashes, chasing each other, …

As I write, I am seated under a big wild-cherry tree—the warm day temper’d by partial clouds and a fresh breeze, neither too heavy nor light—and here I sit long and long, envelop’d in the deep musical drone of these bees, flitting, balancing, darting to and fro about me by hundreds—big fellows with light yellow jackets, great glistening swelling bodies, stumpy heads and gauzy wings—humming their perpetual rich mellow boom.

How it all nourishes, lulls me, in the way most needed; the open air, the rye-fields, the apple orchards…

…my spirit at peace. (Yet the anniversary of the saddest loss and sorrow of my life is close at hand.)

Almost every bird I notice has a special time in the year—sometimes limited to a few days—when it sings its best; and now is the period of these russet-backs.

The Bees’ song. Walter de la Mare

Non-sensical ballad! Hurrah!

The Bees’ song.

Thousandz of thornz there be
On the Rozez where gozez
The Zebra of Zee:
Sleek, striped, and hairy,
The steed of the Fairy
Princess of Zee.

Heavy with blossomz be
The Rozez that growzez
In the thickets of Zee.
Where grazez the Zebra,
Marked Abracadeeebra,
Of the Princess of Zee.

And he nozez the poziez
Of the Rozez that growzez
So luvez’m and free,
With an eye, dark and wary,
In search of a Fairy,
Whose Rozez he knowzez
Were not honeyed for he,
But to breathe a sweet incense
To solace the Princess
Of far-away Zee.

Walter de la Mare